In the Foreign Service, posts come in all sizes, everything from little one-man American presence posts in the middle of nowhere, to tiny Consulates like ours, to massive embassies that employ close to 1000 people. It's part of the reason no two FS careers are ever alike, and I think it can have a major impact on morale and really color your overall impression of this lifestyle.
For example, some people hate the giant missions where you're just lost in the crowd, where you feel disconnected from the community and too overwhelmed to find a niche. Then there are the posts like Yekaterinburg, which currently boasts half a dozen officers and three family members. You don't have the luxury of niches in a post this small. Every person here is his own niche. And that can be both good and bad.
For one thing, I miss my girlfriends like crazy. I've never been someone who has tons of friends, but between my book club girls, my mommy friends, and Sarah's city friends, I always had someone to hang out with (Sarah first and foremost, of course). As I've said before, it's difficult being the only mom at post. My experience here is different from everyone else's, partly because even though I work at the Consulate and feel like one of the gang most of the time, I'm not an officer or a specialist. I'm an EFM (Eligible Family Member) and this is not my career. I'm here to support my husband and to have an adventure, but my interests don't always line up with my coworkers'.
And one thing I've really learned in my first (almost) year in Russia is that that's okay. In the "real world," I probably wouldn't be friends with people I had so little in common with, but I'm grateful to have gotten to know each and every one of them. They feel like my family in a way, because the one thing we all do have in common is that we're here. We face many of the same challenges even though we deal with them in different ways. We are all strangers in a strange land. We're all American. In the U.S., that might not count for much, but here, the similarities outweigh the differences.
It's also part of the reason we get so excited when a "new" American shows up, whether it's someone here at the Consulate or someone in town who reaches out to us, a la "Beeeel," our new golf pro friend I mentioned on Monday. Bill, as it turns out, has a fabulous blog, and I think it will give you an entirely different perspective on Yekat. Even the name - In Russia, Blog Write You - is hilarious.
Looking ahead, I am super excited to be at a large post with a huge expat community - I'll be able to make friends in the embassy community but also outside of it. Heck, I'm already part of a "women and wine" group and I won't be there for two years! There's an international women's group with a book club, and Jack will be starting school, which means I'll have the entire mommy population to sift through. I suppose I'll experience for myself what the drawbacks of a large post are when the time comes.
But after two years at a small post, I think I'll be more than ready for the challenge.